With his size and grit, left winger John LeClair was made for the modern NHL game. He had the ability to win the battles in the corners and the speed to be dangerous on the rush. Though a slow starter in terms of goal scoring, LeClair made up ground fast, becoming the first American-born player in the history of the league to score more than 50 goals in a season three times.
LeClair played for four seasons at the University of Vermont, leading the team in goals, points and penalty minutes in his senior season in 1990-91. After his last game in the college ranks he was immediately called up to the Montreal Canadiens, the team that had drafted him 33rd overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He scored a goal in his first game in the NHL, against the Vancouver Canucks at the Montreal Forum on March 9th.
When he joined the Canadiens on a regular basis in 1993, LeClair earned comparisons to another much talked about youngster, Eric Lindros, and to the Pittsburgh Penguins' hot-scoring Kevin Stevens. LeClair had the size and the mobility to wreak havoc in the corners and in front of the net. But he did not consider himself a scorer, finishing the season with just 19 goals after concentrating on the defensive part of his game.
That began to change during the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs. LeClair made scoring goals, namely overtime goals, his specialty, as did Montreal. The team won 10 consecutive overtime games. In the Stanley Cup finals against Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings, LeClair scored the overtime winner in two consecutive games, the first time any player had done that in the history of the playoffs. His second, which gave the Canadiens a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, showed just what kind of a roll he was on.
Montreal went all the way that year. LeClair toured through his St. Albans hometown with the Stanley Cup, visiting nearby Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a summer retreat for kids with cancer and one of his favorite charity projects. The next season, 1993-94, LeClair, though buoyed by his performance in the playoff run, returned to his more defensive game and once again had 19 goals.
LeClair's overtime heroics did not go unnoticed in Philadelphia. The Flyers were building their team around size, toughness and skill, as they had so often in the past, and general manager Bobby Clarke believed he had a spot for the 6' 3", 225 pound LeClair. On February 9, 1995, nine games into the strike-shortened season, the Flyers acquired LeClair, Gilbert Dionne and Eric Desjardins from the Canadiens for Mark Recchi and a third round draft pick. Placed on a line with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg, LeClair paid dividends for his new bosses immediately. In his first 13 games after the trade he had 12 goals and 11 assists, a considerable improvement over his five points in nine games with Montreal.
LeClair's line was a powerful physical presence. With Lindros at 6' 4" and Renberg a muscular 6' 2", the threesome earned the nickname "The Legion of Doom" for its bruising and effective style. After picking up 25 goals in 37 games with the Flyers that first year, LeClair exploded for 51 in 1995-96.
LeClair proved it was not completely his teammates after his offensive awakening led to a spot on the U.S. team at the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. He was one of the leaders on that championship team, placing second in goals and points in the tournament and earning a selection to the All-Tournament Team.
LeClair's first full season with the Flyers began a streak of three consecutive 50-goal seasons, making him the second Flyer to accomplish such a feat after Tim Kerr. He was a member of the U.S. team at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, a disappointing sixth place showing for the team and LeClair. When he returned to the NHL his pace slowed but only marginally as he scored 43 goals in 1998-99, playing with new linemate Keith Jones who replaced the traded Renberg. Since the departure of Eric Lindros, it has been LeClair who has been both leader and scorer and become the cornerstone to any Flyers chances at a Cup in the 21st century.
After his fifth consecutive 40-plus goal season in 1999-00, LeClair was plagued by injury the following year and was limited to just 16 games. LeClair returned to form in 2001-02 playing in all 82 games. Although his goal total dipped to 25, LeClair still finished second on the team in goals and later that season captured a silver medal with Team USA at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
A shoulder injury limited LeClair to 35 regular season games during the 2002-03 season and a mere 28 points, before rebounding the following year with 55 points (23-32-55)in 75 games. Following a lock out season in 2004-05, the former UVM Catamount was acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He would go on to score 22 goals for the Penguins in his first year with the club, but was release part-way through the 2006-07 season and would subsequently retire.